Lewisburg’s Smith advances to quarterfinals

HERSHEY – Lewisburg head coach Jim Snyder poked his head into a post-match interview with 220-pounder Brandon Smith and had some sage words of advice for his senior state title hopeful.

“We’re never going to win the team title if you don’t start pinning kids,” a straight-faced Snyder said.

It drew a smile from Smith, who seems so focused on the difficult task in front of him of trying to reach his first state final. But after a dominant 7-0 win like the one Smith posted in Thursday’s preliminary round of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships, it makes it a lot easier to crack jokes.

With just two wrestlers in the tournament – freshman Brian Friery also won at 106 pounds for the Green Dragons – Lewisburg isn’t likely to be contending for a team title come Saturday, but Snyder loves to joke around and keep his wrestlers loose.

Smith sure looked loose yesterday morning as he dominated Berlin Brothersvalley’s Mitchell Walker. He appreciated the six-minute workout he got from Walker knowing he’s not likely too get many easy matches in a tough 220-pound bracket.

The gauntlet Smith has to run begins this morning. He’ll face two-time state fifth-place finisher Evan Daley of Ft. LeBoeuf in the quarterfinals. It may be the most intriguing match of the entire Class AA quarterfinal round because it opens the door for the winner to make a run at the final.

“I’m trying to take it one match at a time, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t know who I have all the way through,” Smith said. “But you can’t focus on that because you have to get there first. But now is the time to think about Daley and how we’ll approach him.”

Smith still hasn’t lost since his second match of the year on Dec. 18, a 5-1 loss to Milton’s Ryan Solomon. Thursday morning’s win was the 33rd consecutive victory for Smith this year.

And it was just as dominant as the ones which led him to sectional, district and regional titles in the last three weeks. He used three takedowns and an escape for a 7-0 win.

“I’m treating every match like it’s going to be hard, because, especially down here, it’s going to be,” Smith said. “You have to prepare mentally the same way and warm up the same way. I’m just going to go after it tomorrow.”

Muncy’s Skylar Ebner and North Penn’s Ben Minnich were two other local wrestlers who went after it during the preliminaries. Ebner, in his first state tournament, beat Seneca’s Trevor Beiter, 17-6, scoring 13 points over the final three minutes to win.

Ebner’s major decision win, coupled with Troy Hembury’s first-period fall, has Muncy tied for 10th in the team standings with seven points. Minnich became the first North Penn wrestler to win a match in the state tournament, beating Bedford’s Caleb Grimes, 12-0.

Ebner struggled through the middle portion of his bout to get out from the bottom position against Beiter. After getting the first takedown, Beiter reversed him just 10 seconds later to tie the score. But Ebner carried a 4-2 lead into the second period thanks to a pair of points for technical violations.

Beiter rode Ebner for nearly 1:50 of the second period before Ebner reversed him to his back for a four-point move and an 8-2 lead. He really turned on his offense in the third period hitting his patented headlock for a five-point move, and adding four more points for his winning total.

“After I got the reversal and back points that opened it up for me,” Ebner said. “It felt like I could just get my offense and kept pounding away. I definitely felt I was a lot better on my feet and on top. He had a little bit of an advantage once I was on the bottom, but I just had to overcome that and do my thing.”

Minnich set the tone early for his match when he hit a bulldog of a double-leg takedown and took Grimes right to his back for an early five-point move. He recorded three takedowns and two sets of back points in the win.

“I like to hit the guy and take the confidence away with the double because it normally deflates him,” Minnich said. “I just wanted to keep pounding him and don’t give him room to breathe. It was nice to start the day with a shutout. Even if it’s only a one-point win, a win is a win at states.”